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U.S. Cities Are Eliminating Parking. Why Does It Matter to You?

04.09.19 | Blog | By:

While 12 countries and nearly 40 cities around the world plan to ban or restrict internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs) in the coming years, I’ve noted that such bans or restrictions would never happen in the U.S. But, I also noted that mitigating traffic congestion, air pollution and climate change issues are concerns for many cities around the U.S. as much as they are in EU and other cities around the world. I’ve said before that:

“City managers’ frustrations are building in the U.S. and globally, and their responses could really impact fuel and vehicle demand. This is something the oil and auto industries need to be paying attention to, and figuring out how best to respond and engage. It is not some far-fetched or far-reaching issue, and as far as I know, I might be one of the first ones in industry to identify the trend. So, what can cities do?”

Future Fuel Strategies post May 26, 2017

As it turns out, cities can do quite a lot. At the time, I cited the following: installing EV infrastructure, promoting cycling and walking (and putting in that necessary infrastructure), improving and investing in public transport, and use of cleaner fuels, particularly in their fleets. Many are starting to get rid of parking spaces, not just to combat traffic congestion, air pollution and climate change. Those are primary goals. But the other issue is making the cost of building housing more affordable for developers and prospective buyers/renters. It’s expensive to build parking spaces. In San Francisco, it can cost $30,000 to build a parking space.

Cities around the U.S., more than you may think, are reforming building codes to eliminate rules that dictate certain numbers of spaces in housing and other building types, called parking minimums for short. The map below, available online here, shows the U.S. cities that have and are discussing removal of minimum parking. I counted at least 100 cities. Canada is also included.

Source: Strong Towns, November 2018
Green pins = parking minimums completely eliminated in at least one area of the city; blue pins = parking minimums lowered or removed for certain uses; orange pins = currently discussing their parking minimum laws

Just in the last year alone, cities such as Hartford, Connecticut eliminated parking minimums. Other cities, like Buffalo, New York, New York City, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Seattle, San Diego and Cincinnati, have selectively relaxed the requirements in certain areas or for certain types of buildings. In December 2018, Minneapolis and San Francisco approved plans to get rid of parking minimums.

This is a trend that is going to continue to gain steam around the U.S. (and Canada and other countries as well). Why does it matter to the fuels and vehicles industries? Luc Nadal, the Urban Development Director at the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP) sums it up: “[Reducing parking] is the key to reducing car use.” Reducing car use, of course, reduces fuel use. Or as UCLA parking studies professor Donald Shoup has put it, parking spaces are “like a fertility drug for cars,” as lifestyles, budgets, streetscapes, and architecture were warped around what is increasingly thought of now as a parking space subsidy. Many cities think it’s time to end that subsidy.

Tammy Klein is a consultant and strategic advisor providing market and policy intelligence and analysis on transportation fuels to the auto and oil industries, governments, and NGOs. She writes and advises on petroleum fuels, biofuels, alternative fuels, automotive fuels, and fuels policy.

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